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County Commissioner Candidates’ Responses

“The vote is precious. It’s almost sacred.” -- John Lewis

The right to vote in the United States was widely available only with the Voting Rights Act of 1965—just 55 years ago.

When John Lewis marched for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965—and was nearly beaten to death by police for doing so—Black residents in Selma made up half the population, but only 1 percent could vote.

County Commissioner Candidates’ Responses

DISTRICT 1

George Bowers: Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that racism is directly correlated to exposure. I have long been grateful to say that my past has afforded me exposure to many cultures, which I feel has shaped my understandings and tolerance that are inherent to my world view. As a potential commissioner, I seek to gain further exposure to our Native neighbors, their culture, and their needs as a community. I do not see the issue of race as a partisan one in any way. To view it as such is a setup for failure. I think it is reasonable to state that none of us had any say in how, where, nor what color we were born. Whether one is Black, White, Brown, Yellow, Red, Male , Female , or Other – we all need to find a way to work together to make the world a better place.

Rick Robbins: *No Response

DISTRICT 2

John Hunter: Education is the key and the sooner it starts the better. Inequality creates injustice. Whether discrimination or harassment presents itself in racial or any other forms, it has absolutely no place in any branch of government. I am encouraged that County Administrator Janik has hired Professor Emling to provide anti-bias training to the county commissioners. Like water that moves beneath Leelanau County, the acceptance of racism, bigotry and narrow-mindedness also flows. We often receive a glimpse on this subject in our local newspaper’s letters. We all need to realize that we are interdependent upon each other regardless of our origins, preferences or privilege. Each and every person in Leelanau County has an inherent worth and dignity and must be treated with recognition, respect and appreciation. I would hope that every county employee has the opportunity to engage in anti-bias and/or sensitivity training. The government campus is ADA compliant and smoke free. There must be no invisible barriers when it comes to race. Every county employee works for whomever walks in those doors.

Debra Rushton: *No Response

DISTRICT 3

William Bunek: If re-elected, I will work to promote diversity, inclusion, equality and equity in all aspects of county government. These goals will be accomplished through providing, supporting and participating in the necessary professional developmental anti -bias training for elected officials and all county employees as has been stated in Leelanau County Resolution #2020-014. Recently, as commissioner, I have learned that there are certain types of racism that people do not wish to discuss publicly. How will these kinds of racism be resolved if open dialogue is not allowed?

Lois Bahle: I plan to participate in available professional development programs. As with your advertisement in the 9/17 Leelanau Enterprise, “I don’t consider myself racist”, but I don’t know what I don’t know. I welcome the opportunity to start the listening and conversation.

DISTRICT 4

Ty Wessell: I must learn, speak out, listen, and be accountable. I must confront racism through actions, advocacy, education and policy review. I must get racism on the agenda and acknowledge racism as an issue. I must promote training and support efforts for workforce diversity and policy review. Most importantly, I must remain dissatisfied with the status quo and advocate for change.
Over the course of the last several weeks, I have heard a number of suggestions. Based on these suggestions, I support the following actions for County Commissioner consideration:

  1. Adopt a culture of responsibility that recognizes that silence is complicity and all elected officials and staff must be expected to speak out against racism.
  2. Support efforts to diversify the County’s workforce and all Committees and Commissions.
  3. Identify and develop ‘champions and leaders’ within each County department that will meet regularly to review policies and procedures, examine data and promote formal and informal training programs for staff and community.
  4. Encourage goal setting around specific outcomes and post a ‘County Dashboard of Indicators’ for accountability purposes.
  5. Work with staff and community leaders to develop a range of techniques and strategies that can improve responses to racism.
  6. Commit training dollars to the Sheriff’s Department to support adoption of best practices in law enforcement.
  7. Identify community leaders who can help us refute the arguments of those who say that racism is not a big issue in Leelanau County.
  8. Develop awareness materials to inform citizens about their rights and obligations, including available resources and mechanisms for prevention and redress.
  9. Enhance existing complaint mechanisms within the County’s authority to deal with allegations of systemic and individual acts of racism and discrimination.
  10. Establish an official committee/commission of the County government charged with the responsibility to formalize a Racial Equity Action Plan for Leelanau County.

DISTRICT 5

Patricia Soutas-Little: Action must begin with ongoing anti-bias training at the Board and employee levels, encouraging local government to follow suit. That will provide us better skills to review County policies, practice and regulations, identifying racial inequities and making needed changes that lead to racial equity and more diversity in the workforce. In the process of drafting an alternate anti-bias resolution for the BOC, Commissioners Rentenbach, Wessell and I had the opportunity to speak with Melissa and Jim Petosky, Holly bird and Beatrice Cruz and hear their perspectives on racism. I also talked with and learned a great deal from my daughter, much of whose work as a lawyer turned sociologist centers on racial injustice and bias. She acquainted me with the work of Ibram Kendi and other leading antiracist voices who have written extensively on this topic. I now understand that one of the first things I need to do is learn how to talk about racism and listen even more intently. I need to do a better job of identifying racial inequity where it exists and learning how to confront and engage individuals making racist statements without arguing. I need to work on how I can be a better advocate for racial equity by recognizing and coming to terms with my own “white privilege” and as Ibram Kendi states, “knowingly strive to be an antiracist” both In my work and in my private life. The anti-bias training offered to commissioners on November 5th is a good start, but not one and done. I look forward to continuing my education in other courses that are offered and to continue reading, learning and sharing with others.

Jim Houdek: *No Response

DISTRICT 6

Lana Schaub: I believe in life from conception to death, and that informs my moral compass. I want to help my entire community with my whole heart and I would be willing to listen. Commissioners deal with the budget. Our tax dollars are dependent on votes within the committee. I stand with my moral compass – that each life is important.

Gwenne Allgaier: Even though my generation has been aware of racism, white privilege has undoubtedly left me with unconscious bias which I am very willing to learn about and address. County employees should take anti bias training, hiring patterns should be reviewed. Positions on boards and commissions should be promoted to people of color. The effects of white privilege run deep….and we all have a life-time of living with and unconsciously accepting institutional racism as the norm to learn about and correct. I would hope that as a result of this incident in our County, we will all become more aware, and our County and County government will grow and adapt. We can all become much richer, our County a better place for all of us to live together truly equally, if we rise to this challenge.

DISTRICT 7

Julie Morris: I would like to work toward increasing diversity in membership in county and township committees and leadership positions. I also would like periodic training on racism, equity, justice, diversity and inclusion. I cannot and will not let elected officials in our county spew racism without speaking up. I learned that racism in Leelanau County is more prevalent amongst elected officials than I could have imagined. I recently enrolled in “Understanding Racial Justice: a five-week introductory training program for white folks living in Northern Michigan” offered by Title Track.

Melinda Lautner: *No Response

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